China axes Taiwanese children's choir trip

The Aboriginal Puzangalan Choir singing the national anthem during new Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen's inauguration ceremony in Taipei, on May 20, 2016.
The Aboriginal Puzangalan Choir singing the national anthem during new Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen's inauguration ceremony in Taipei, on May 20, 2016. PHOTO: AFP

TAIPEI (AFP) - China has axed a visit by a popular Taiwanese children's choir after they sang the national anthem at the inauguration of the island's new president, as ties between the rivals grow increasingly frosty.

The choir is the latest casualty since Beijing-sceptic Tsai Ing-wen won the presidency in January, bringing an end to an eight-year rapprochement with China.

Her inauguration in May centred around Taiwan's unique history and culture - a theme likely to have irked Beijing which still sees the self-ruling island as part of its territory.

The aboriginal Puzangalan Choir made a name for itself island-wide after singing a moving rendition of the national anthem on stage during the celebrations.

But Chinese authorities seem to have been less impressed.

Choir organisers say city officials have cancelled their performance at a children's choral festival in Zhongshan, in the southern province of Guangdong, due to take place in July.

"The invitation from the mainland is gone," said a post on the choir's Facebook page.

"The kids can hardly understand how this happened." Choir executive Tsai Yi-fang confirmed the concert had been cancelled. "This has badly hurt our children," he told AFP.

The choir had been hoping to raise funds through the Guangdong performance to travel to a singing competition in Hungary in August.

President Tsai pledged NT$500,000 (S$20,868) to their cause after learning of the cancellation.

"This is the voice of Taiwan. Together, we will let the children sing to the whole world," she said in a statement on her Facebook page.

Local media reported choir leaders as saying they had been told by city officials that the cancellation was due to political "sensitivities".

Comments posted on the choir's Facebook page pledged help and support.

"Every one of us on the island who think he or she is Taiwanese would feel proud of you. You represent the roots of Taiwan culture," said one post.

"The more the Chinese on the other side suppress, the more it shows that you have been doing the right thing," said another.

This is not the first time Chinese authorities have banned musical performers from Taiwan for political reasons.

Taiwan's pop diva A-Mei was blacklisted by China for several years after she sang the island's national anthem at the 2000 inauguration of then-president Chen Shui-bian, known for promoting the island's independence.

Taiwan is a fully fledged democracy but has never formally declared independence since splitting from the mainland in 1949 after a civil war.

Tensions eased markedly under Tsai's Beijing-friendly predecessor Ma Ying-jeou.

But warming ties left voters increasingly wary that Beijing was seeking to erode Taiwan's sovereignty, leading to a landslide victory for Tsai.

Beijing is highly suspicious of her Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) which is traditionally pro-independence.